Much like Tim Thomas before him, Roberto Luongo will stay the course despite defeat

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If there’s one trend I’ve noticed when people critique athletes, it’s that writers, fans and “experts” often seem to think that players can drastically change their styles at the professional level.

Sometimes it’s true that players can make small changes that yield significant results, but these are usually incremental improvements. Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler and goalie Roberto Luongo are solid examples of players who successfully tweaked their games a bit to improve their value in the NHL.

That being said, it’s tough to ask a player who ascended to the professional level that he’s been doing it all wrong. After all, whatever he does helped him to get this far, so you almost run into a “square peg in round hole” situation.

After allowing a regrettable Game 2 overtime goal in part because of his trademark aggressiveness, many people wanted Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas to change his ways. This sort of armchair criticism ignores the fact that more than nine times out of 10, Thomas makes the save. He doesn’t do that because of inherent size (he’s listed at 5-foot-10) or the soundest goaltending style. What makes Thomas so great is the interpretative dancing style of netminding that combines his flailing limbs, outstanding sense of anticipation and – yes – aggressiveness to form a sum that’s greater than his parts.

Luongo plays a very different (and up to Game 3, more efficient) style than Thomas, but they’re both right in ignoring knee-jerk reactions from game to game. Luongo already adjusted his technique by playing deeper in his goalie crease than he had in previous seasons, but that’s likely an alteration made in part because of suggestions from a goalie coach. This just in: most media members and fans would not fit the bill as goalie coaches.

“I’ve been playing well all year. I think it’s worked out pretty well for me,” Luongo said Tuesday, the day after the 8-1 loss. “I made some adjustments before the year started, so I’m not going to readjust again.”

The Bruins lost the first two games 1-0 and 3-2, although Thomas played well. But when Alex Burrows charged ahead in Game 2, Thomas went out to cut down the angle. Burrows skated around him and continued behind the net, then tucked the puck in the far side 11 seconds into overtime.

“I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie,” Thomas said with a smile after the loss. “I’m not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time. I’m just going to keep playing the way I have.”

Unwavering confidence – and a lack of “conscience” about goals allowed – is part of what got both goalies here. Sometimes that could backfire a bit, like some might describe Luongo’s insistence on remaining in net for all of Boston’s 8-1 blowout in Game 3. After going behind 5-1, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault asked Luongo if he wanted to spend the rest of the game on the bench. It probably shouldn’t be that surprising that he said “No.”

“Alain asked me when there was about eight minutes left. I said I wanted to stay in,” Luongo said Tuesday. “If I would have known they would have scored three more times, I might have thought about it.”

The eight-goal barrage on 30 shots increased Luongo’s postseason goals-against average from 2.16 to 2.44 and reduced his save percentage from .928 to .919.

“Even though we were losing, 5-1, it was a pretty intense game and I still wanted to be in there,” he said. “They kept putting the pressure on. We started maybe taking our attention away from our game plan, started worrying about physical aspects of the game, which we shouldn’t be doing at this point.”

Again, this is a match between two elite (and super-confident) goalies. It’s likely that their teams’ performances will make an impact on their own play, but to many, it comes down to Luongo vs. Thomas. Neither party looks to wilt under that spotlight and each will win or lose by the methods that got them here in the first place.

Penguins heavy NHL odds favorite against beleaguered Blackhawks on Wednesday

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It is rare for a road team in the NHL to go as deep into minus money as the Pittsburgh Penguins are for their game against the reeling Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m ET; NBCSN), meaning a trend could be shrugged off due to small sample size.

The Penguins are -195 road favorites on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with the host Blackhawks coming back at +155, while there is a 6.0-goals total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Penguins are only 1-5 in their last six road games as a favorite of -190 or greater on the moneyline, as well as 3-7 in their last 10 road games, but are 4-1 in five road games this season against Western Conference teams.

The Blackhawks’ trends are even more abject; they have surrendered the first goal in 11 consecutive games and are also 2-6 in their last eight home games at the United Center. Chicago also played Tuesday night, losing 6-3 against the Winnipeg Jets, and is 4-16 in its last 20 games when it played the previous day.

Pittsburgh is 13-10-6 on the season, including a 6-2-2 mark over its last 10 games. The Penguins are well off of their Stanley Cup form of two seasons ago, but still have a strong first two lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both Pittsburgh special teams units are in the top 10 of the NHL, with the power play ranking ninth (23.2 percent) and the penalty killing unit ranking sixth (83.5).

With No. 1 goalie Matt Murray (lower body) close to a return to health, the Penguins could have a choice between him and Casey DeSmith, who is 3-1-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in five starts so far in December.

Chicago is 9-18-5, including 1-9 in its last 10 games, and there is little to suggest much in the way of an immediate turnaround. Captain Jonathan Toews‘ line is one of the least proficient first lines in the NHL and the next waves of attack, which include right wing Patrick Kane, have been just ok, which is why the Blackhawks have not scored more than three goals during any of their last eight home games.

The Blackhawks are also 31st, or dead last, in power play efficiency (11.6 percent) and 28th in penalty killing (74.4 percent).

Cam Ward played in the Winnipeg game, which would suggest the Blackhawks will start goalie Corey Crawford, who is winless in his last eight starts. Crawford is 5-14-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, but his rate stats improve to 2.39 and .925 on home ice, which might provide a glimmer of hope for upset-minded bettors.

The total has gone UNDER in six of Pittsburgh’s last 10 road games against the Central Division, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. The total has gone UNDER in eight of Chicago’s last 10 home games.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Rangers’ Shattenkirk out 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers say defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be sidelined two to four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Shattenkirk left in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa. He took a check around the left shoulder and had a sling on his arm postgame.

The 29-year-old was checked out on Tuesday. General manager Jeff Gorton announced Wednesday that Shattenkirk had a separated shoulder.

Shattenkirk has one goal, seven assists and zero penalty minutes in 29 games this season. He suffered a knee injury last January that ended his season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Which teams are likely to make moves before Holiday Freeze?

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We’re exactly one week away from the NHL’s holiday roster freeze. Teams won’t be able to make a move between Dec. 19 at 11:59 pm ET and Dec. 28 at 12:01 am ET, which means there could be some fireworks between now and the 19th. So, which teams are most likely to make a move before next week? Let’s take a look.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have already fired a general manager, so you’d have to think that the next step is to acquire some help that will improve their roster immediately. It’s been a disappointing year in Philly. After making the playoffs last season, they now find themselves one point away from the basement of the Eastern Conference. Sure, they could use some help between the pipes (no kidding), but they could also look to acquire a steady defenseman to compliment some of their younger players on the blue line. Their 12-13-3 record has them five points behind the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Minnesota Wild: Prior to last night’s huge 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Wild had been floundering. Does one win change that? Probably not. Charlie Coyle‘s name has come up in trade rumors a lot lately, and you’d have to wonder if he’d be the one to go if GM Paul Fenton wanted to shake up his roster. Minnesota is still close enough to the playoffs that a big move could propel them back into a top three spot in the division or a wild card spot. Fenton still hasn’t made a major trade since taking over, so this could be his time to shine.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is already sick of seeing his team not make it to the playoffs. They clearly have a need up front. The ‘Canes have to find a way to add some scoring help (Jeff Skinner would look great in a Hurricanes jersey right now). The good thing about Carolina, is that they have an abundance of talent on defense, which means they could sacrifice some of that to get a scoring forward. The Hurricanes are two points behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Metro.

Boston Bruins: Despite the fact that they’ve been hit hard by the injury bug this season, the Bruins have found a way to stay in a playoff spot. Getting healthy would help, but the quickest fix might just be for GM Don Sweeney to make a trade before Christmas. Some depth scoring would certainly help. The Bruins are probably the team from this list that’s in the best shape, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to stay quiet on the trade front.

St. Louis Blues: Doug Armstrong has to do something to get his team back on track, or it could end up costing him his job. The Blues made some significant trades this off-season, but that hasn’t translated into victories. St. Louis could use help all over their roster. Their goaltending hasn’t been good enough, their defense has been in shambles all year and their top scorers haven’t been performing. This might be a do-or-die situation for Armstrong.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers missed the playoffs by just one point last season, which means they have to make the postseason this year. Unfortunately for them, Roberto Luongo has been banged up, again, in 2018-19. Could they be in the market for a goalie? It’s clear that they can’t just keep rolling with James Reimer if they want to play games deep into April. And relying on Luongo to stay healthy is a risky proposition.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Jim Rutherford has already made a couple of moves (he acquired Tanner Pearson from the Kings and Marcus Pettersson from the Ducks), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to pull the trigger on a trade again. Even though they’ve been playing better as of late, the Pens still find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture right now. Maybe they just wait it out, but a move is never out of the question for Rutherford.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.